The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently suffer incapacitating physical, mental, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to civilians. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been documented at least back to the second world war, but it’s far more prevalent in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are commonly among the younger group of service members and are also up to four times more likely to have hearing loss than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
Two words: Noise exposure. Sure, some occupations are louder than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet setting. The volume of sound that they would normally be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (standard conversation).
At the other end of the sonic scale, for civilians anyway, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you work on a job site that’s in the city. Sounds you’d constantly hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s just background noise. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are common on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but individuals in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is far louder. This is definitely true in combat settings, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are none too quiet either. Indoor engine rooms are very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. Noise levels for pilots are high as well, with choppers on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another concern: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel adeptly points out, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. They need to contend with noise exposure in order to accomplish missions and even day-to-day activities. And although hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most common form of hearing loss among veterans and this kind of impairment can be treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another issue, treatment options are also available.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.